Tropical Storm Stan kills at least 225

Tropical Storm Stan left a trail of devastation across Central America and Mexico, killing at least 225 people and forcing 225 000 others from their homes after unleashing five days of relentless downpours, authorities said on Thursday.

The death toll in Guatemala surged late on Thursday to 134 after a mudslide slammed the Solola department in the west, killing 55 farmers.

Stan also left 65 dead in El Salvador, 11 in Nicaragua and 15 in Mexico, according to authorities in each country. Officials feared the death toll could rise as emergency workers searched for the hundreds who remained missing.

The storm slammed ashore as a hurricane in Mexico’s state of Veracruz early on Tuesday. Stan was downgraded to a tropical depression by the end of the day, but caused major flooding and landslides in southern Mexico and Central America.

Forecasters warn the remnants of Stan can still produce heavy rains and trigger severe flooding and landslides for the next several days.

More than 31 000 people were evacuated in Guatemala, about 140 000 in Mexico and 54 000 about in El Salvador.

The United Nations said it was sending a team of disaster experts and the United States, at the request of the Guatemalan government, said it was sending six helicopters for search and rescue efforts along with thousands of blankets and personal hygiene packages for the storm victims.

Guatemalan and Salvadoran authorities declared states of emergency to rush aid to the devastated areas.
Rescuers pleaded with colleagues who had not joined the effort to help, saying they were shorthanded.

A spokesperson for the Red Cross in El Salvador described the storm as “bigger than the rescue capacity.

“We have floods everywhere, bridges about to collapse, landslides and dozens of roads blocked by mudslides,” the spokesperson said.

Salvadoran President Antonio Saca, who toured affected areas in his small Central American country, urged residents to evacuate threatened areas.

Thousands of Salvadorans have already fled, not only from the threat of mudslides and flash floods, but also from an eruption of the Santa Ana volcano, which killed two people on Saturday.

As government officials attempted to gauge the damage to farms, schools and health clinics, the UN in El Salvador made an inter-agency appeal for roughly $6,5-million to meet the immediate needs of victims of the flooding and the volcanic eruption.

Dozens of landslides were reported across the country, causing many of the deaths blamed on Stan. The Panamerican Highway leading to the capital of San Salvador was cut off by mudslides, as were several other roads.

“The situation is more than critical,” said Raul Murillo, spokesperson of the National Emergency Commission.

In Mexico, tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes, and the state oil company Pemex had evacuated 270 workers from its offshore platforms before the storm hit land.

In the impoverished, mountainous Mexican state of Chiapas, pounding rain caused several rivers to overflow, smashing homes near the Guatemalan border, causing bridges to collapse and flooding roads.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, has been one of the deadliest and most active on record. Stan was the 10th Atlantic hurricane this year.

Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the US Gulf of Mexico coast August 29, ravaged New Orleans and coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, killing more than 1 200 people and becoming the deadliest storm to hit the United States since 1928. - AFP

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